12 Кислева 5783 года, третий день недели, гл. Ваишлах

The Four Dimensions of Exile and Redemption

Upon reflection we will see that all four “damagers” can be understood as metaphors for Torah which is the antidote to all four forms of exile.

29.01.2022 712 (0)
The Four Dimensions of Exile and Redemption
The Four Dimensions of Exile and Redemption

Torts and Salvation

The Mishnah, the first collection of Jewish law after the Written Torah, is divided into six orders are based on the Biblical text and the interpretations of those laws handed down to Moses at Mount Sinai and transmitted faithfully from one generation to another until it was recorded in the text of the Mishnah.

The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) associates these six orders with the six terms in the verse (Isaiah 33:6): “The stability of your time and the strength of salvation is wisdom and knowledge…” The word “salvation” the Talmud associates with the order entitled Nezikin which deals with the laws of torts, i.e., damages caused by a person or by his property. Many of these laws are based on this week’s parsha of Mishpatim.

The Four Exiles

Based on the association of damages with salvation it stands to reason that these four sources of damage are related to the Redemptions of the Jewish people from exile.

The case for this association is made stronger when we quote the opening words of this order (Bava Kamma): “There are four primary forms of damages: The ox [that gores], the pit, the tooth [i.e., an animal that eats another’s property), and fire.” The fact that the Mishnah enumerated four forms of damage (and omits many other examples of damages) lends credence to the assertion that the Mishnah alludes to the four exiles to which we were subjected. Furthermore, it may be suggested that the secret of our Redemption from these four phases of exile correspond to these four categories of damagers as well.

The 16th century Biblical commentator known as the Alshich elaborates on this matter and connects these four sources of damage to the four exiles of the Jewish people by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.

The Babylonian exile is correlated to the “ox.”

The “pit” alludes to the Persian exile.

The “tooth” hints to the Greek exile and the “fire” relates to the Roman and final exile.

The connection to these four empires and their subjugation of the Jews the Alshich explains as follows:

The Babylonian empire was out for sheer destruction as the prophet Habakkuk referring to the Babylonians (1:9) states: “They come all of them for violence.” This is like the goring ox that is not interested in conquest but in wanton destruction.

The “pit” alludes to the Persians because Haman the Persian Prime Minister dug a figurative pit to cause the Jewish people to tumble and fall. The Talmud compares Achashveirosh and Haman to owners of a mound and a pit, respectively. The comparison of Haman to one who dug a pit is based on the Midrashic tradition that it was Haman who conspired to get the Jewish people to sin by having them invited to the orgiastic banquet in the city of Shushan. His objective was to render them vulnerable by causing them to sin and thereby deny them G-d’s assistance. This would lead the way to carry out his diabolical plan to have the entire Jewish nation destroyed.

The Greeks were likened to the “tooth, Alshich explains, because the tooth is referred to in the Mishnah as Maveh, which the Talmud (Bava Kamma 3b) states means “exposed,” referring to the teeth that alternate between being concealed and being exposed. This alludes to the manner of Greek oppression. The Greeks did not look to destroy the Jewish people but to defile them by invading their privacy and their inner purity and holiness. They penetrated into the private aspects of Jewish society by violating the women, confiscating their hidden treasures and desecrating the inner sanctum of the Bais Hamikdash.

Rome is compared to fire because of its role in destroying the Second Temple with fire.

Aggression, Emptiness, Hedonistic, Hostile

It has been suggested that these four symbols of exile correspond to four negative traits:

The “ox” is the aggressive personality; the person who tries to dominate others.

The “pit” is the vacuous personality who has no substance. Indeed, the word pit in Hebrew, bor is cognate to the word boor, which refers to a hollow person. Both in Hebrew and English.

The “tooth” personality is the hedonist who is obsessed with the pursuit of physical pleasure symbolized by a ravenous, insatiable appetite.

The “fire” personality is the one who is burning with anger and hostility.

Torah, the Antidote

We now have to understand how these four damagers/exiles/negative traits are also associated with salvation; the Redemption from these four exiles. Indeed, as long as we have not been fully liberated from the current exile we are still tainted by the former three exiles and we need to liberate ourselves from them as well.

Upon reflection we will see that all four “damagers” can be understood as metaphors for Torah which is the antidote to all four forms of exile.

The ox was used for plowing fields which produced an ample supply of nourishment. Our Talmudic Sages used the ox as a metaphor for the breadth of Torah knowledge, which nurtures us spiritually. Torah knowledge tames the person, provides him with substance, weakens the obsession with physical pleasure and replaces it with an obsession for the delight of Torah and contains and dissipates anger and hostility.

Pits were generally used for storage of water. Water is the most common metaphor for Torah. Torah sustains us like water. Water flows downward and so was the Torah given to us from on High. The Messianic Age is also described as an age when the entire world will be covered with the knowledge of G-d as the sea is covered with water.

The “tooth”, which relates to the damage caused by an animal in its pursuit of pleasure can serve as a metaphor for the delight experienced in the study of Torah. The entire Psalm 1119, the longest Psalm, is about King David’s passion for Torah and describes it as the most profound and exquisite source of delight.

Moreover, the first time the Torah mentions teeth is in the blessing the Patriarch Jacob gave his son Yehudah: “[People will be] red eyed from wine and white toothed from milk.” According to the Zohar [as interpreted in the work Likkutei Levi Yitzchak] the words “wine” and “milk” in this verse alludes to the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, respectively. There he explains that the 32 teeth humans possess allude to the 32 pathways of wisdom.

The Torah is also likened to fire in Deuteronomy (33:2): “He gave them a fiery Law…” The Torah given to us at Mount Sinai was accompanied with fire. This highlights the Divine source of Torah and is a metaphor for the fiery passion we have for the Torah because it is G-d’s transcendent wisdom.

In summary, by devotion to Torah study we equip ourselves with the power to rid ourselves of the negative traits that correspond to the four forms of exile. This is particularly true when we learn the parts of Torah that actually deal with the subject of Redemption.

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